Superfund answers are lacking

The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s been barely four weeks since the Environmental Protection Agency moved to declare the Gowanus Canal a federal Superfund site, but that’s enough time for hysteria, misinformation and defamation to bubble to the surface of this debate.

As in past development battles, the dearth of information has allowed the uninformed to set the agenda and control the vocabulary of this debate. This is not the way to hash out any issue as important as the future of the Gowanus Canal zone.

So before residents can reach any kind of consensus, we need these answers:

How dangerous is the canal? We know we wouldn’t want to go swimming in it, thanks to those noxious chemicals in the sediment, but is the canal unsafe to be around? Has the government registered higher rates of cancer or illness among current workers and residents? In short, does the Gowanus Canal represent an actual health threat beyond its stinkiness after heavy rains?

What would be the scale of the clean-up? Would this clean-up simply ensure a flow of somewhat cleaner water through the canal. Or would it involve dredging the entire two miles, disposing of the toxic soil, remediating all the brownfields along the canal and then re-routing antiquated city sewer lines so that raw sewage no longer spills into the waterway during heavy rainstorms? The difference is would involve billions of dollars.

How long would this take? Superfund clean-ups take decades because the search for guilty polluters sets into motion years of litigation. In the canal zone, this process would be complicated because some of the canal’s pollution is more than a century old.

And finally, who will pick up the tab? Last week, we learned that municipalities are often holding the bag — which would put city taxpayers right where we started.

The Brooklyn Paper will keep fighting for these answers. But in the meantime, we would urge both sides in the debate to stop vilifying their opponents when this debate remains as murky as the canal itself.

Updated 5:12 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Margaret from Gowanus says:
Dear Brooklyn Paper, Weren't you there at the community mtg with the EPA? Didn't you hear how toxicity in the canal was being measured 6 parts per hundred (when other places they measure per million, per trillion?!). A health study is direly needed in Gowanus, and EPA CLEARLY stated that this would be part of their Superfund work. How can they answer your questions about health until that study is done? The city and state never thought to do such a study. The EPA also made it clear that they first need to assess the canal in order to make a comprehensive plan. There is an undertone in your editorial that challenges the EPA, the time it will take, the funding for it. What does all this matter? They are the only hope. Never before did Gowanus residents get this kind of break, this kind of power to finally get comprehensive approach to clean up. And where did you get "vilifying their opponents" when there is discussion about Superfund? You are making this into an ugly scenario with that kind of commenting on good earnest activism on behalf of cleaning up the canal. But I recall that you are also pro AY, and somehow, this has become a pro and anti development debate by many - instead of what it should be. Focus on the sick canal, please.
May 1, 2009, 7:06 am
kduffy from Carroll Gardens says:
Your editorial reflects the general apathy of our elected officials. The EPA has confirmed that the Gowanus district is hazardous.

In fact, the EPA acknowledge it not have to go much further than the entry of the canal to make their determination.

To deflect attention away from the necessity to remediate for health and safety reasons by focusing on the economic costs is irresponsible to the community your paper serves. Our community deserves better.

If you are interested in knowing what individuals from the community are saying about this issue I encourage you to read their comments on

It is sobering.

Thank you.
May 1, 2009, 1 pm
Carole G. from CG says:
Come on, Gersh!

Your very own "Politicrasher", who attended the Dazzle Me Forum last Sat., and who wrote this in your very own Brooklyn Paper this week wrote,

"Young John Heyer, a prot
May 1, 2009, 5:36 pm
Carole G from CG says:
continued "Young John Heyer, a prot
May 1, 2009, 5:38 pm
Carole G from CG says:
a prot
May 1, 2009, 5:39 pm
Carole G from CG says:
of neighborhood legend Buddy Scotto and an assistant to Borough President Markowitz, had some of the more visceral outbursts, yet less specific policy positions. He suggested that his mother’s three miscarriages and his family’s history of cancer is connected to its proximity to the Gowanus Canal.
Yet this fifth-generation Gowanus-area resident didn’t have an answer if he supports the federal Superfund program." (Brooklyn Paper)

Are your really going to side with DeBalsio and say the Gowanus Canal isn't all that bad? Then I guess you and Bill are planning to locate your families to the canal and live "worry-free" too?

And I guess you'll be bringing Marty, Bloomire and Murdoch Murdoch too?

If you are all so sure it's safe I hope to see you very soon on those canoes too and please bring all the grandchildren, and the fishing poles too.

At least you could call for a legitimate, "non-special interest" funded heath study of the place. Isn't that the responsible thing to do rather than to criticize Brooklyn activists and lobbyists who arrived AFTER the intense PRO-DEVELOP CANAL ad-campaign and lobbying had already been paid for and begun?

What kind of Brooklyn newspaper is this anyhow?

I think I am going back to the blogs, myself.
May 1, 2009, 5:39 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
What kind of paper are you if you can't do simple research? You guys act like water purification tablets are all that is needed.


This was done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and was found in less than one second using Google. Try it, you may be amazed at the wealth of information.
May 3, 2009, 7:15 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
Also, do you people even understand what Superfund is and who pays?
May 3, 2009, 7:18 pm
Roger from C Gardens says:
Carole G from CG says: "Isn't that the responsible thing to do rather than to criticize Brooklyn activists and lobbyists who arrived AFTER the intense PRO-DEVELOP CANAL ad-campaign and lobbying had already been paid for and begun?"

I'd like a Gowanus cleanup.
But I'd feel a whole lot better if the pro-Superfunders weren't simultaneously so anti-development.
Because as it now stands, it looks like they're embracing Superfund as a permanent-delay NIMBY tactic.
May 5, 2009, 7:45 pm

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